By ZACH HARMUTH | Photos by VANESSA BEACH
A little more than two months ago, the Spring Hill Raiders lost at Page 26-25. Two weeks ago, the Raiders (7-5) nearly missed the playoffs, losing four straight before snatching the fourth and final spot in Region 4-4A in a loser-goes-home game versus Lawrence County.
Now, they find themselves two wins away from the state championship game after defeating Page 45-31 on the road in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs Friday.
“I am a little bit in shock,” first-year Spring Hill head coach Jay Emmons said. “And I’m so happy I can’t stand it.”
The Raiders leaned on the wheels of running back Dontae Smith, who rolled for three touchdowns and 445 all-purpose yards, including 312 on the ground.
“Dontae is a very steady young man,” Emmons said. “But I can’t fail to talk about the offensive line, what they brought tonight, the huge creases they created for Dontae. He is quick, fast and strong. If you give him an inch he may take 30 yards. I am very proud of how they blocked.”
Spring Hill visits Marshall County (11-1) next week.
After falling behind twice in the first quarter, first 3-0 then 10-7, Spring Hill outscored Page 21-7 from late in the first quarter to halftime. The lead held in the second half.
The Patriots (7-4) matched their record from last year.
“I think we had a good season,” said head coach Charles Rathbone. “We were a little banged up. But ultimately I give Spring Hill credit. I am proud of our guys, and proud of them, too. They deserve it.”
Page started the game by holding Spring Hill to a three-and-out, then followed up with a 5-play, 16-yard drive that Brent Cimaglia capped with a 48-yard field goal.
With nearly four minutes gone from the first quarter, leading 3-0, Page was about to meet Smith, who sliced Page in the ensuing kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown return and a 7-3 advantage.
Quarterback Jacob Van Landingham pushed Page ahead 10-7 with a 10-yard touchdown connection to Daniel Callicoat with 3:27 left in the opening frame.
However, once again, Spring Hill struck in nearly no time.
Smith took an off-tackle carry on the second play of the ensuing drive 79 yards for his second score.
The Raiders pushed their lead to 21-10 with a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Lovell to receiver Darrin Johnson two minutes into the second quarter.
A 16-yard touchdown pass from Van Landingham to Bubba Johnson cut Page’s deficit to 21-17 close to three minutes later.
Johnson finished with 169 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Lovell added a 1-yard touchdown keeper to close the half with a 28-17 lead.
Spring Hill got a Hultgren field goal on its first possession of the third, extending the lead to 31-17. Page responded with another long scoring drive that was capped with a 1-yard touchdown run by Johnson.
But Smith could not be stopped. He took a toss 35 yards to the house to bump the Raiders’ lead to 38-24 with less than two minutes remaining the third.
Page got close one more time with a 1-yard touchdown run by Johnson with 10 minutes to go.
Spring Hill then slowed things down. A run-heavy drive wound the clock down to under three minutes before Kennedy Ross barreled 20-yards to paydirt for the game’s last points. Page, starting to air things out as time wound down, threw a deep pick.
Page coach Charles Rathbone ended the year with positive sentiment.
“Proud of the kids,” he said. “The seniors left this program better than they found it. And that is all you can really ask for. They are good young men.”